Read All Over – Rhea Tregebov

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Read All Over celebrates the bookworm in all of us, showcasing readers in Vancouver and the books they love most.
Rhea Tregebov is a poet, novelist and children’s writer. Born in Saskatoon and raised in Winnipeg, she spent many years in Toronto and then was lured to Vancouver eight years ago by a job in the Creative Writing Program at UBC. Her seventh collection of poetry, All Souls’, was released by Signal Editions/Véhicule Press (Montreal) in September, 2012.

Her historical novel, The Knife-Sharpener’s Bell (Coteau Books), follows a Winnipeg family who make a reverse migration back to the Soviet Union in the 1930s. She’ll be at the Jewish Book Festival on Thursday November 29, at the Vancouver JCC.

What are you currently reading? Your thoughts on it? 

I’ve just finished Linda Svendsen’s Sussex Drive, a wickedly funny Ottawa satire with a very frightening, too-close-for-comfort political message. And I’ve started Annabel Lyon’s The Sweet Girl, which features Aristotle’s daughter Pythias, and is a sequel to The Golden Mean, Lyon’s book about the philosopher. I find the way Lyon is able to enter the human mind of Classical times uncanny, unsettling, and fascinating. Since I can never read just one thing at a time, I’ve also started Rachel Rose’s new book of poetry, Song & Spectacle. I’m a long-time fan of Rose’s work, and admire as much the wisdom of how she sees the world as the technique that makes her such a skilled writer.

How do you like your books served up best – audio books, graphic novels, used paperbacks, library loaner, e-reader…? 

I started my life as a reader taking the maximum allowed number of books (I think it was six) from the local library and then waiting impatiently till the week was up to borrow the next batch. I was voracious. These days I like to buy books, especially my friends’, especially from independent booksellers. I’m very strategic about where and what I buy. I’ve read one eBook on my iPad while on vacation and it was indeed handy, but I like paper.

What books have changed your life?

Cesare Pavese’s Hard Labour, in translation from Italian by William Arrowsmith, really altered my notion of what poetry could do with its leggy, narrative lines. It was a bilingual publication and I could look at the Italian and imagine I understood it. Bronwen Wallace’s early poetry was also a huge influence on my writing because of a similar inclusiveness. Adrienne Rich and Tess Gallagher were water in the desert when I was young and thirsting for powerful, dense female voices. In prose, I guess it’s Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I read most of it in French, having first read Swann’s Way in English translation, so it is probably a pretty smeared perception of what actually went on, but I loved soaking up the language and that immersion into self. Also Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, another book that altered my perception of what literature was allowed to do in terms of its pressure on conventional story.

Where is your favourite place to crack open a book in Vancouver? 

In summer, I take one of those low-slung beach chairs to Jericho Beach and get sand in my toes while I read. That way I’m completely unplugged, and distracted only by the water and the odd seagull.

Do you have a favourite story set in Vancouver? 

Strong competition between Billie Livingston’s Greedy Little Eyes and Mike Christie’s The Beggar’s Garden. Both are incredibly honest, gritty, and compassionate. They are both insanely good writers.

The one book you always recommend is…

W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, another genre-disturbing, necessary work. Of genius.

What book or story impressed you as a child?  Were you obsessed with any particular ones? 

So many, but the Little House on the Prairie series completely captured my imagination, perhaps because that narrative of struggle and survival was so resonant with my own parents’ stories of growing up in the Depression. I thought (and still think) that the real life could never be a complacent one.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

My editor, Carmine Starnino, who made such a difference to the development on All Souls’, my newest book. He was a combination of head cheer leader – he really believed in the book – and stern taskmaster, because he would not let anything go until I’d done the best I could.


Rhea Tregebov, some of her bookcases, and her latest book of poetry.

Your life story is published tomorrow. What’s the title? 

The Only Time I Ever Got Into a Fist Fight I Punched Myself in the Nose. (This is true.)